Chemical engineering is a multi-disciplinary branch of engineering that combines natural and experimental sciences (such as chemistry and physics), along with life sciences (such as biology, microbiology, and biochemistry) plus mathematics and economics to design, develop, produce, transform, transport, operate and manage the industrial processes that turn raw materials into valuable products.
Many of the processes within chemical engineering involve chemical reactions, and the field takes cues from chemists who are looking for new ways to create products and investigate the mechanisms within chemical reactions. Chemical engineers then translate this chemical information to formulate designs.
As such, there are two broad subgroups that better answer the question “What is chemical engineering?” – more precisely:
Designing, manufacturing, and operating plants and machinery for carrying out large-scale industrial chemical, biological or related processes
Developing new or adapted substances for a wide range of products
Chemical engineers may be specialized in one or the other subgroup, but work from both sides will be required in order to create a final product. They will need to consider economic viability, management of resources, health and safety, sustainability, and environmental impact.
Despite its youth, chemical engineering has changed a lot in recent years. It’s traditionally just been about fuel (oil and gas), but now it’s much, much more than that.
Power is still a big part of chemical engineering, but many graduates now go into the sustainable and ecological side of fuel. Many more will play their part in developing new materials, in nanotechnology, in mineral processes, and in bioengineering.
About the Course
A degree in chemical engineering will give you the talent and opportunity to make a real difference in the world, and get paid a handsome fee for doing so.
As you start your course, you’ll be building a foundation of knowledge in the subject, so expect a lot of introductory modules which span chemistry, physics, and maths. You’ll begin to specialize in the second and third years, as you understand more about chemical engineering as a science.
And you’ll be developing this understanding in a range of environments. From mastering theories and calculations in the lecture hall to running simulations in computer rooms, to putting your knowledge into practice in laboratories, to seeing them in action during site or visit fields – it’s fair to say you won’t be sitting still for long.
Typical modules for courses in this subject include
Chemical engineering design;
Chemistry and processes;
Electrical and information engineering;
Fluid mechanics, mass and heat transfer, thermodynamics;
Introduction to biochemical engineering;
Practical skills in chemical engineering;
Programming skills for engineers;
Structures, materials, and dynamics.
What skills are commonly gained from a degree in chemical engineering?
Special knowledge of chemical engineering theories, methods, and practices;
Understanding of manufacturing processes;
Knowledge of terminology used in the chemical, minerals and material industries;
Advanced numeracy skills;
Advanced laboratory skills;
Ability to analyze complex data sets and form conclusions;
Clear understanding of the commercial application of science, chemical engineering and general engineering;
Commercial awareness of chemical engineering field(s);
Good understanding of IT and computer-aided design (CAD) software;
Awareness and understanding of ethical issues within chemical engineering;
Written and oral communication skills, including presentations and report writing, to an acceptable academic standard;
Time management, independent learning and organization skills;
Problem-solving and decision-making skills;
Independent research and study skills;
Analytical and critical thinking skills;
Teamwork and leadership skills;
Project management skills;
Ability to think creatively;
Good attention to detail.
Undergraduate-level chemical engineering degrees can last from three to five years. The duration varies based on the institution and the country in which you study but also depends on whether you choose to study a Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) or a Master of Engineering (MEng).
The degree allows students to develop a greater depth of chemical engineering skills and knowledge in chemical engineering and complete a wider range of project work. Once you have accumulated the necessary work experience, qualifications, skills, and knowledge, an accredited MEng also allows you to gain the status of Chartered Chemical Engineer. You may also be able to combine chemical engineering with other disciplines such as environmental engineering, business management, foreign languages, and subjects in the humanities.
A degree in Chemical Engineering is highly vocational. However, if you decide not to continue as an engineer, opportunities can be found in management or analytical roles – including supply chain, risk management, or finance.